The Electric Commentary

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Diploma Privilege

In Wisconsin, you do not need to pass a bar exam in order to practice law so long as you graduate from one of Wisconsin's two law schools; UW and Marquette. We are the last state in the U.S. with this diploma privilege. Because of this, 2/3 of the lawyers in the state, including me, never took a bar exam.

I sort of have mixed feeling about the diploma privilege. On one hand, I don't think licensing is really necessary at all and the requirement of a license, or even the requirement of a law degree, helps make legal representation cost-prohibitive to a lot of people. But sometimes I wish I had been forced to take it because you learn a lot studying for it. Of course I've learned a lot these first few months of practicing too. But the idea behind the diploma privilege, is sound--keep graduates from Wisconsin's two very good law schools here in Wisconsin.

Last night one of our local stations had this puff piece on the news. The piece characterizes the diploma privilege as some sort of loophole that 2/3 of the lawyers in the state managed to sneak through. The story never mentioned that Wisconsin is rare in that the only law schools in the state are highly ranked. It never mentioned that their curriculum focuses on Wisconsin law, just like the bar exam does for non-Wisconsin students. It never mentioned that our bar exam has a very high pass rate.

In the story, they interview some guy that went to Thomas Cooley law school in Michigan. I just looked at Cooley's website. Their top 25% LSAT score would not likely get an applicant into either Wisconsin or Marquette. Not by a long shot. It would be about 9 points shy of Marquette's average and about 12 shy of Wisconsin's average.

After graduating from Cooley, this guy then went on to fail the Wisconsin bar exam 5 times. He is not allowed to try again. This was supposed to seem unfair in light of the fact that 2/3 of the lawyers in the state never had to take it.

I bet that a lot of great lawyers come out of Thomas Cooley law school, but I also bet that if it were located in Wisconsin, we would get rid of the diploma privilege pretty fast.

5 Comments:

  • Everything you learn for the Bar leaves you shortly thereafter, and much of it is useless. The Bar tests your ability to pay attention in Bar/Bri, and Bar/Bri teaches exactly how to pass the bar. They are nothing more.

    More states should have the diploma privilege. The Bar is merely a tax on lawyers, paid to other, less useful lawyers.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:22 PM  

  • I think the Wisconsin privilege is a good idea, not only for the reasons you stated, but also because it is a draw for the schools and attempts to counter the "brain-drain" that Wisconsin claims happens to its best high school and college students.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 3:25 PM  

  • I thought the most interesting comment that came out of the Supreme Court hearings about the University of Michigan's law school affirmative action program was Clarence Thomas saying the taxpayers of Michigan are idiots: They subsidize the law-school educations of a bunch of people who will leave Michigan as soon as they finish law school. The state should either follow Wisconsin's lead or make Michigan's law school become self-supporting.

    By Blogger MDS, at 10:28 AM  

  • The news clip exemplifies how a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. The reporter means well, but she has no clue.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:34 PM  

  • When I was researching law schools in 2003-04 (my sr. year of undergrad), as a native Michigander, I looked at Cooley out of curiosity and discovered a bachelor's degree wasn't even a requirement for "certain applicants." I've also heard they fail a lot of students in the first year so as to not graduate so many people who would end up like this particular gentleman. I too think studying for a bar is beneficial whether I forget the information or not, but failing it no matter how well one does in law school is a very scary thought because not all of us are good in exam settings. Given that, I still intend to sit for MI's Bar and the diploma privilege was not even on the radar in my decision to attend UW.

    By Blogger Enochs, at 4:43 PM  

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